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2016-17 Canadiens Season Review: Alexander Radulov went from surprise signee to team MVP candidate

The energetic Russian had a great season after slotting into a top-six role.

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Two Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

July 1 is a key date on the NHL calendar: the first official day of the new season, and the opportunity to add players whose contracts have just come to an end. In the summer of 2016, the options seemed rather slim for Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens, with David Perron and Milan Lucic being the top names linked to the Habs. At one point even Dale Weise was mentioned as a possible returnee to fill a hole in the roster.

Fans and media alike were in for a surprise as reports began to trickle in that the Habs had come to an agreement with KHL star Alexander Radulov. There were initially some concerns about the off-ice issues that played a large role in a tumultuous career with the Nashville Predators, ones that ultimately led to him heading back home to Russia in the 2011-12 season.

Those concerns were outweighed by the promise of a true offensive talent. When those who observed his game over the last few years vouched for his maturity in his time in the KHL, the move went from high risk, high reward, to arguably the deal of the off-season.

It didn’t take long for him to endear himself to the Montreal fanbase. His high-energy play had him as the best player on the ice in nearly every game of the first half of the season, and led to him gradually working his way up to the lineup to a spot opposite Max Pacioretty on the top line.

He’s a playmaker first and foremost, punching a hole through the opposition defence to create a passing lane to a teammate, and that style allowed him to set a career high in assists (36) in 76 games played this season. His 54 points ranked second on the team behind the captain, and 67th among NHL forwards.

His exuberance did lead to a large number of penalty calls, usually the result of a quick reaction after a turnover, often unnecessarily done in the attacking half of the ice with support behind him. He had spent 16 minutes in the penalty box in his first games, and his 62 PIMs on the year were behing only Alexei Emelin’s 71, and Andrew Shaw’s 110.

Toward the end of the season, it seemed his constant energy was beginning to run low. He regained his offensive touch at the start of April and carried that into the playoffs, where he led the team with seven points — five of them assists — in the six games the Habs played.

His deployment as an offensive player led to a good shot-attempts-for percentage of 53.9%, though that only ranked sixth on what was a strong possession team. He and his linemates slightly outperformed that stat with 55.6% of the scoring chances while they were on the ice. In the post-season, that scoring chance stat rocketed up to a spectacular 59.9% as he was a force to be reckoned with when the games mattered most.

The future

The Habs approached last season needing a top-six winger to play on the right side, and they got a first-line playmaker who exceeded most expectations. Given the questions about his maturity and what kind of impact he would have, he was only granted a one-year deal, meaning he’s headed for unrestricted free agency when the calendar rolls around to July 1 once again.

There will be no surprise this time around, as every other NHL team knows what Radulov can contribute as he nears his 31st birthday. The cost may be a bit more than $5.75 million he received for what was basically a one-year trial.

Radulov was reportedly interested in signing a long-term contract as his next NHL deal, and if the Habs want to retain his offensive skills, work ethic, and contagious exuberance, they may need to go that route.


Grade Radulov’s season

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